Alone in the forest, Charles and Edmund notice that it’s getting dark. Edmund accuses Charles of having “nits” and adds that his father will buy him an expensive watch for Christmas.
Edmund continues to bully Charles and imply that he’s inferior because of his class background, even though Charles saved his life. Talk about ungrateful.
Charles has caught a fish to eat: he pulls it out of the water and, rather than kill it with his penknife, lets die slowly on the grass. As the fish writhes on the grass, Edmund accuses Charles of letting him die—had he not gone off to explore, Edmund might not have bashed his head. He also accuses Charles of being a bully for not killing the fish straightaway with his penknife.
Again, Charles hesitates to kill a living creature—and yet, in a way, he does kill the fish, arguably in a much crueler way. The scene is something of a metaphor for Charles and Edmund’s differing personalities: Edmund, the sadist, wants to kill the fish right away. Charles is capable of violence, too, but he goes about it in a calmer, more reluctant way.
Charles cooks the fish by piercing it on a stick. The fish tastes bad—Edmund spits it out, but Charles eats a little. Edmund complains that Charles is supposed to be taking care of him while he’s injured, and Charles calls Edmund a baby. It is now completely dark, except for the light of the fire.
Charles tries to assert his power over Edmund by bullying Edmund—and yet, paradoxically, Edmund behaves exactly like a helpless child. Once again, Edmund refuses to play by the rules: instead of being grateful to Charles for saving his life, he continues lashing out at his savior.
Edmund mocks Charles for having a mother who kisses him goodnight. Charles points out that Edmund doesn’t even have a mother, but Edmund shoots back, “I wouldn’t want one” and adds, “Fathers are better.” Charles raises the stick he’s used to cook the fish, and Edmund quickly says, “You better not try to hit me.” Charles throws the stick in the fire.
Desperate to assert himself again, Edmund tries to exploit another one of Charles’s weaknesses: his lack of a father. Edmund is clearly scared of Charles’s physical strength. Instead of using force, Edmund prefers to bully Charles with words. For his part, Charles doesn’t attempt to bully Edmund for lacking a mother, even though this would be extremely easy.
Edmund asks Charles, “Has your mother gone after a lot of people … the way she’s gone after my father?” Charles immediately regrets not hitting Edmund with the stick. Edmund, gloating, tells Charles that Charles’s mother, Helena, has come to Warings to marry Joseph. Charles begins to despise his mother. Then he remembers that this is all his “father’s fault.” Even while Charles was in school, Charles didn’t have enough money, since his father was dead. He was a G.B.B, a “Governor’s Bequest Boy,” and everyone knew it. He wishes his mother was dead instead of his father.
Edmund succeeds in “getting through” to Charles. As before, he does so by emphasizing Charles’s inferior social status, something Charles has been aware of for most of his life (since he’s attended an expensive boarding school on scholarship). He also bullies Charles by claiming that Joseph and Helena are getting married. This isn’t the first time that Edmund seems to be observant beyond his years. Instead of directing his anger at Edmund, Charles directs it at his own mother, which only allows Edmund to bully him further.
Later that night, Edmund is fast asleep. Charles has given him his anorak as a pillow. Charles feels “protective” toward Edmund. He also decides that Edmund’s comments about his mother don’t matter—Edmund is just a nuisance. Then, in the distance, Charles begins to hear the sound of foxes howling. Then, he sees an owl fly overhead. As the owl hoots, he wishes he could hide his head under a blanket. He feels “cold and dead,” and wants to cry.
After saving Edmund’s life, Charles wants to believe that he can just ignore Edmund from now on. Charles wants to be mature and independent, and wishes he could dismiss Edmund instead of letting Edmund get under his skin. But the hoot of the owl at the end of the passage is a reminder that Charles isn’t as confident or brave as he wishes he could be—and this suggests that Edmund will continue to be able to torment him.
When Charles wakes up, it’s still dark. He hears Edmund crying out in his sleep: he says, “Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!” Charles wakes up Edmund and tells him to take another aspirin. As Charles goes to fetch some water from the stream, Edmund wails that he feels hot.
This is one of the few passages in the novel in which Hill suggests that Edmund misses his mother. Even though he’s better at hiding it than Charles, Edmund is sad and lonely as a result of losing a parent.
Edmund swallows the last aspirin. Charles tells him that they’ll have to stay in place if Edmund is still sick tomorrow. Edmund suggests that his father may call the police to search for them in the forest. He adds that Charles will be in trouble when the police find them, since “It’s your fault.” Edmund claims he’ll tell the police that Charles made him leave Warings. Suddenly, Edmund cries, “I want to go home.” Charles calls him a “great blubbering baby.” Edmund begs Charles, “Don’t go away.”
Here, again, Charles seems to have the upper hand. Edmund is completely dependent on him, and knows it—that’s why he begs Charles to stay with him in the wood. However much Charles may resent Edmund, he also seems to care for him enough to look after him when he’s helpless and sick, suggesting that Charles has an innate sense of morality that Edmund simply lacks.
Charles feels a sudden urge to press his advantage. He bellows, “Shut up, Hooper … I’ll bash your head in.” Charles straddles Edmund and threatens to hit him if he says anything else. Edmund begins to cry. Charles hesitates, climbs off of Edmund, and then apologizes. He knows he’s giving up his advantage, but he also knows now that he has an “inner strength” that Edmund lacks. He tells Edmund not to worry, and he tries not to think about “what would happen if nobody did come for them.”
The chapter seems to end with Charles as the victorious one. He’s saved Edmund’s life and guided Edmund through the forest. In a way, Charles has accomplished exactly what he set out to accomplish: he’s proved to himself that he can get by without anyone’s help (even if only for a day). But there are some clouds on the horizon. Either Charles and Edmund will remain in the forest, where sooner or later they’re going to starve, or they’ll have to go back to Warings, where Edmund still enjoys unlimited power over Charles.